My Deep, Dark Secret

When I was in junior high, I was invisible.

Or I might as well have been.

I was average height, average weight, wore braces, and had acne. I looked exactly like 95% of the girls in my class. I was unremarkable. Non-descript. Invisible.

And I didn’t even know it.

Diana's 8th Grade Graduation

My 8th Grade Graduation Class (May, 1978)
Can you pick me out from the crowd?  My kids couldn’t.
(Center of the picture – 2nd row, light pink dress, single flower)

Yes, I envied the popular girls in my class. They were pretty with nice figures and had all the cute boys buzzing around them. They’d won the genetic lottery. I hadn’t. That was that. No use crying over something you can’t have, right?

Still, I could dream.

Tiger BeatI dreamed of my favorite teen heartthrob singling me out from the concert crowd to join him on stage, be in his television show, or become his girlfriend (didn’t we all?). It wouldn’t matter to him that I wasn’t the most popular girl in school; somehow, some way, he’d be able to see through the so-so exterior to the sweet and kind girl beneath.

Because Lord knows the boys in my class couldn’t do it.

The good looking guys rarely bothered with me. I had to settle for the 2nd string, the “average” guys the popular girls weren’t interested in. Some were smart, some were kind, some were annoying, some were complete jerks. None were charming or masterful.

Most of the popular girls were also charm-deficient. The only time they talked to me was to point out my transgressions, like flirting with a cute boy or throwing off the grading curve. When I went out for the basketball cheerleading squad and was chosen instead of one of the popular girls, she demanded a recount. Denied that, she got on the phone that night and started a smear campaign against me that landed all of us in the principal’s office where he threatened to disband the squad if we didn’t stop fighting. That was in January of 8th grade. From then until we graduated in May, I was repeatedly told that I should quit the squad, that I didn’t belong, that I was “reaching above myself,” and that I was “lucky” to be included.

I didn’t feel lucky. I felt like an outsider.

High school was a relief.

My parents sent me to an all-girls high school that I thoroughly enjoyed from Day One – mostly because none of the “mean girls” from 8th grade followed me there. I didn’t have to worry about them, boys, how I looked – heck, I could even get good grades without someone making a snide remark. I was in heaven.

Until my brother opened his mouth, that is.

It was mid-June. He’d just graduated from college, I’d just finished 9th grade. We’d seen little of him the previous 4 years, and he was now home for a while, looking for a job. As we were laughing and joking one night after dinner, he looked at me strangely, poked my belly, and said:

“Geez, Diana! If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were pregnant!”

Conversation stopped. I stared at him in disbelief.

He poked my belly again. “That’s disgusting.”

I turned and left the room as my parents hollered at him for being so rude. I went to the only room in the house with a lock- the bathroom – and did what any other 14 year old girl would do: I curled up on the floor and cried.

But not loud, sobbing cries. Oh, no. I didn’t want anyone to know that hurt as much as it did, that my brother suddenly sounded like an unfiltered version of those “mean girls” from 8th grade. I cried silently, rocking back and forth on the rug until I was exhausted and all cried out. Then I got up, washed my face, and took a good, long look at myself in the mirror.

I did look pregnant.

I have a “V” shaped body, so any extra weight accumulates in the belly, back, and face. When you see it every day, you don’t notice it. But my brother had been gone for four years. When he left, I was a skinny little kid. Now I was a chubby teen – who looked pregnant.

Diana, Age 5 Diana, Age 13
Diana, Age 5
I was skinny until I was 10 
Diana, Age 14
A pubescent mess! Extra weight, hand-me-down overalls, droopy hair…

I started a diet and exercise program the next day.

By the end of June, I’d lost 5 pounds. By the end of July, another 10. By late August, I’d was down 25 pounds, to a fit 120.

Then I got my braces off. I cut my hair. I got rid of my acne.

When I went back to school that fall, my friends, classmates, and teachers didn’t recognize me.

They also didn’t treat me the same.

As crazy as it sounds, it was like I jumped from the “D” list to the “B” list overnight.

I wasn’t quite on the “A” list – it had only been a few months, after all – but it was such an obvious change that even my parents noticed. I got picked to do more things. Teachers started recommending me for stuff. I suddenly had a social life.

I was in over my head.

Maybe it was the “mean girl” memories coming back to haunt me. Maybe it was fear of the unknown. I don’t know. I just knew I didn’t want to look like a fool in new situations, so I asked my mother if I could go to a Swiss Finishing School. . .and she laughed. Until she realized none of her other kids had ever asked such a thing, and decided to look into it.

Wendy Ward Charm SchoolNow while an actual Swiss Finishing School wasn’t in the cards, Mother did find budget-friendly etiquette lessons…at the Wendy Ward Charm School. As in Montgomery Ward, Wendy Ward Charm School. I know, I know – not exactly the Protocol School of Washington. But it was the only resource available in Colorado Springs at the time, and it was actually pretty thorough for what it was. During the six week course I learned things like how to style my hair, apply makeup, select clothes, hold a conversation, and get in and out of a car without flashing anybody (Britney Spears could have used Wendy Ward). To graduate, we had to select an outfit from the Montgomery Ward Juniors Department, and model it in a runway show for our parents.

It was fun, informative, and gave me exactly what I needed: a little confidence.

It also gave me an edge at school.

Within months I was being assigned more leadership roles, and one of my teachers even convinced me to run for Student Council President – as a sophomore! I didn’t win, but a dozen teachers stopped me in the halls in the days after the election to tell me I had more poise than most seniors. I thought they were joking.

Junior year, I was one of six girls picked to lead our annual Dad-Daughter show. By senior year, the nuns were regularly nominating me to do all kinds of extra curricular things, like head fund raisers, submit an essay to the Daughters of the American Revolution, even be in a teen pageant. I was 2nd Runner Up in that pageant, and won “Miss Poise and Personality.”

Miss T.E.E.N. Pageant, 1982

1982 Miss T.E.E.N. Pageant
I’m 2nd from right:  2nd Runner Up and Miss Poise and Personality 

Lee's Clothing AdThat pageant lead to other pageants, as well as a short modeling career that lasted while I was in college. After appearing in a number of commercials and print ads throughout the Pikes Peak region, I was frequently recognized when I was out and about. Little kids wanted my autograph. Guys wanted my phone number. On two different occasions, hot guys singing on stage during shows singled me out in the crowd. That silly dream I’d had in junior high sort of actually came true – and it was both embarrassing and flattering at the same time.

And it all came about because my brother said I looked like I was pregnant.

Now think about that for a minute.

By the age of 14, I had accepted my “lot” in life: an invisible spot on the “D” list. I was generally happy – I didn’t like people telling me I didn’t belong or didn’t deserve things – but other than that, I was okay with it.

Until I wasn’t.

My brother called it like he saw it. He had no hidden agenda, and probably forgot about the conversation 5 minutes later.

But that comment spurred me to action like nothing else ever had. Within a year, I’d lost weight, taken etiquette lessons, and gained enough confidence to run for Student Council President. Within 5 years, I was slightly famous in my hometown of (then) 300,000.

Now you may read this and think it’s all about the weight. It’s not. These days, I can easily disguise 25 pounds with the right color and cut of clothes.

But what I can’t disguise is the feeling of accomplishment that comes from losing 25 pounds. When you set a goal, work your bum off, and reap the rewards, no one can take that away from you. No one. Same if you write a book, run a marathon, or create an award-winning recipe.

Success breed confidence. Which then leads to more success.

Employee of the Year, 1988
The Hotel Inter Continental Houston
I’m being congratulated by John Sutherland,

Regional Director of North and South America
I won $500 and a Round-Trip for 2 to San Francisco

The weight loss was the first domino. I wanted it gone, and 10 weeks later, it was. No big deal.

So when I went back to school that fall and everybody suddenly started treating me with more respect, I was completely mystified. When I realized some people were even treating me with as much deference as they did the popular girls (gasp!), I went home and stared at myself in the mirror for 20 minutes, trying to figure out what they saw that I didn’t.

The same thing my brother had: a big change.

I no longer looked like most of my classmates. I looked like a girl who was going places, so they just stepped back and let me go. It’s been fun.

Has every day been a success? Of course not! Life is full of peaks and valleys, and you have to take the good with the bad. I’ve had wonderful years and horrible years, smashing successes and abysmal failures. It’s called life.

James Best Book Signing, August, 2009
Me (on left) with JoJami Tyler of FabulousAfter40.com
and her father, actor James Best,
best known as “Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane” on The Dukes of Hazard 

But I’ve never again been treated as badly as I was in junior high. Yes, part of it was the age – almost everyone has a “mean girl” tale to tell from junior or senior high. But in the 30+ years since, the snide remarks have been few and far between. More people have opened doors for me than stood in my way. Whenever someone does come at me with a put down, I try to determine whether it’s a legitimate complaint, or if it’s coming from a “mean girl” place of insecurity.

So why am sharing this story?

Why did I go dig out old pictures and share painful memories?

To show you why I’m so passionate about helping YOU look your best. My life changed when I changed how I looked.  When people started treating me better because of what they saw on the outside, it gave me the confidence on the inside to share more and more of my talents.  It was literally like flipping a switch.

People are like plants: they flourish with attention.  Give them light and water and room to grow, and they can take over an entire garden.  But ignore them or forget to water them, and they soon shrivel and die.

Most people don’t get enough attention.  They work hard, provide for their families, do everything they’re supposed to – and barely get a thank you, let alone a pat on the back.  Which is why so many take the bad behavior route to fame.  When they take off their clothes, cause a scene, bully others, or tragically, open fire in a school or movie theater, yes, people notice.  But for all the wrong reasons.

I want people to notice YOU for all the right reasons.

You have gifts and talents to share, and we need to see them.  That’s why you were put here.

But if you look like 95% of the people in your school, job, industry, or social group, it’s easy to be overlooked.  If you have others telling you that you don’t belong, it’s easy to believe them.  If you have relatives making mean comments, it’s easy to get hurt.

You know what’s even easier?

Putting it all in your past by changing how you look.

“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity,” said Oprah.

I sure got lucky once I got my act together.  So have many of my clients and readers.

So can you.

If you’re ready to step away from the crowd and into the spotlight, grab a copy of my best-selling ebook, Wardrobe Magic, to learn how to a build a go-anywhere wardrobe that will  build your confidence and breed success.

Wardrobe Magic“I purchased the e-book 2 months ago and the first thing I did was to aggressively attack my closet. It was tough, but if it didn’t flatter it had to go.

“No more looking for the right outfit every morning. No more wasting money on items that just don’t work.

“I must be doing something right because I have been receiving a lot more attention and compliments.

“I feel pretty…oh so pretty :)”

-Angela Harris

Change your clothes, change your life.  Grab Wardrobe Magic today!

Diana Pemberton-SikesDiana Pemberton-Sikes is an author, image consultant, and fashion blogger who’s been offering fashion advice online since 2000. FashionForRealWomen.com offers the largest directory of image consulting articles on the web, and her ebooks are recommending reading at colleges, universities, and businesses all over the world.

 

 

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25 Comments

  • Jackie

    Reply Reply January 6, 2013

    Thanks for sharing. Your story has inspired me to create a new me. Very encouraging and timely @ the beginning of the year.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply January 6, 2013

      Glad to hear it, Jackie! That’s why I wrote it! 😉

  • Libby

    Reply Reply January 6, 2013

    Thank you Diana, for sharing your story. I think most of us do have a sad tale to tell about Junior High and those awkward pre and early teen years. I certainly do. Thankfully, I also had a mother who knew how to dress for success and taught us to appreciate the finer way of doing things. We were a bit of an oddity in rural Acadiana in the 50’s. But, that early training has served me well and opened doors professionally and given me the opportunity to share that same philosophy with others.

    Again, thank you for your honesty.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply January 6, 2013

      Hi Libby,

      You’re welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      My mother was also an inspiration to me, and taught me so, so much. It sounds like we were both blessed in that regard. 🙂

  • Fit and Creative

    Reply Reply January 6, 2013

    Dear Diana,

    This is a very inspiring life story. Congratulations and thank you for sharing some very valuable info with your readers.

    Best wishes for the new year and please keep up the great work!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply January 6, 2013

      Glad you enjoyed it! I always aim to give “food for thought.” 😉

  • Lorinda

    Reply Reply January 6, 2013

    Love the color of our suit and shoes in 1988 photo! Miss those fashions.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply January 7, 2013

      Hi Lorinda,

      Thanks! Me, too!

  • Sherry

    Reply Reply January 6, 2013

    Your brother needs bifocals — as far as I can see, you’ve ALWAYS been a BEAUTY !!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply January 7, 2013

      Ah, Sherry – you’re sweet! Thanks!

  • Mills42

    Reply Reply January 6, 2013

    Diana, thanks so much for sharing. Change a handful of small details, and this is my story, too! I can look back and be grateful now that my eyes were opened at age 12, painful as it was. But this is a lesson that bears repeating, and I’m thankful that you are here to share your knowledge with us. I ordered “Industry Darling” last year and loved it … looking forward to revisiting the lessons again this year and continuing to move toward becoming all I can be!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply January 7, 2013

      Hi Camille,

      I know a lot of people can relate to this story, which is why I shared it. We’ve all had low moments; it’s what we learn from them that counts…

  • Cathie

    Reply Reply January 6, 2013

    Hi Diana, I think you look adorable in ALL your photos! Too bad about the bullies but you certainly had very good looks all your life. 🙂 Cathie

    • Diana

      Reply Reply January 7, 2013

      Aah – thanks, Cathie! You’re very sweet!

  • Tasi

    Reply Reply January 6, 2013

    Diana – your story and that of Judith Rasband were truly an inspiration but probably not in the way you intended. I’m a fashion writer in the transgender community who often suffers lack of self-esteem and does not value the importance of good dress nor the impact of image on those surrounding us. I was also bought up in the 50s and after 40+ years in the business world, can attest to the declining social standards which is all too often reflected in our dress. Thank you for these timely articles and for being an advocate of standards that are much needed in our American society

    • Diana

      Reply Reply January 7, 2013

      Hi Tasi,

      Glad you enjoyed the article!

      It’s been a subtle change – the last time we regularly dressed well as a nation was in the 1970’s, before the designer jean craze of the 1980’s. Jeans led to leggings which led to sweats which led to people not bothering to change out of their pajamas to leave the house. Casual IS easy, but as the standards of dress went down, so did everyone’s self esteem. When you make the effort to look good – and people notice – it does wonders to your self-confidence. Keep that in mind next time you’re feeling low. Take care!

  • Gail Harris

    Reply Reply January 7, 2013

    Great article! Your articles are always interesting. The success stories are always the best. Dressing for the next level and demonstrating confidence (even when I wasn’t) has made a difference in my personal life and my career.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply January 7, 2013

      Thanks, Gail! Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Maricar

    Reply Reply January 8, 2013

    Thank you for sharing. You are as ever, very inspiring.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply January 8, 2013

      Ahh, thanks, Maricar! You’re welcome!

  • Loraine Lewis

    Reply Reply January 8, 2013

    Diana, thanks for your article. My goodness, I remember Wendy Ward! My Aunt insisted that us girls listen to the ‘phonograph’ edition of this course one summer. I do finally appreciate what she was trying to do for us gawky, awkward young ladies. I still remember what was said about how to stand properly so you don’t sway. Ha. Still practice that when I am in front of people. Thanks for sharing these private feelings. Just goes to show, we are not the only ones feeling this way.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply January 8, 2013

      Hi Loraine – glad you enjoyed it! Wendy Ward was actually pretty popular throughout the 60’s and 70’s, bringing charm and etiquette to large and mid-sized cities all over the country. Sadly, such large scale programs are no more – especially since we could really, really use them these days!

      As for sharing my private feelings, that’s why I did it: to show everyone that we’re really not all that different from each other. 🙂

  • Hildy

    Reply Reply January 17, 2013

    At 80 years old I still like to dress properly. Classic lines allow me to wear clothing I had purchased in the 80s and 90s and ( those are my favorites) and to receive many compliments on my apparel.
    Thank you for sharing and encouraging women to dress with style.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply January 25, 2013

      Hi Hildy,

      Yep – classics are ageless and age-defying. You can’t tell when you bought them, and you can’t tell how old you are when you wear them regularly. It’s a great trick! 🙂

  • Gabrielle

    Reply Reply February 1, 2013

    Thanks Diana for such an eloquent and timely article. I also found the Conselle article to be really informative – too often I have seen people everywhere – the mall, church, special events – who looked as if they were something dragged in by a dog from a swamp. I am now in my mid 50’s, but even in my 20’s I never liked jeans (they felt stiff and uncomfortable) preferring dress pants, nice sweaters, jackets – and always adding accessories. I leaned toward classic styles but loved (and still do) adding a bit of drama & oomph with scarves and costume jewellery. I have many times felt overdressed at the mall and wondered how people could actually venture outside their homes looking the way they do and being oblivious to how dreadful they look. Was I was the out-of-touch one? A ‘not-so cool’ frump fro another century? I am happy to realize that I’m not and that there are many others like me who think it’s past time to bring grace, elegance, style and beauty back into our wardrobes and lives. Education I agree is key. I have often thought of presenting a workshop on this, but then wondered if anyone would be interested in coming. From the responses, I see that there is hope. I have just started my own business so will continue to dress up; and, work on that workshop! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and insights – you help all of us be better.

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